The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

 

The Art of Being Normal is a touching exploration of what it means to be normal. In this case we are dealing with the issue of transgender children, but equally you could substitute disability and the story would still flow in the same way.  If you are different, all too often you face discrimination and ridicule and this is why the book is so important, especially as the reading group its aimed at, will shape the future these young children will have to grow up in.

I know that there has been some criticism that the author is not transgender. I suppose the feeling being she can’t voice issues she has no personal experience of herself?  But then how many thriller writers have murdered someone or stalked victims?  I can understand how people feel, but Lisa Williamson has worked with transgender people and this gives some authority to her story.

It’s a moving exploration of teenage angst, further complicated by the fact that David one of the characters is a girl born into a male body and forced to live a double life out of fear of attracting the further attentions of the school bullies and rejection by his family. While Leo has secrets of his own and angry at the world around him, finds friendship with David when he stands up for him against the school bully.

The writer for me tries to give a voice to a group of young people who often hide in their own shadows out of fear of rejection and violence. She captures the complex and secretive world of the teenager, who already has to navigate the transition into childhood and adds in the confusion of knowing your transgender!

It’s an important book and I think one that should be added to the set texts studied by children studying English literature in Secondary School. Transphobia, homophobia etc are all a symptom of ignorance and bigotry and if we could educate the next generation of young people like David would have a better chance of living a normal life.

I love how the book forces the reader to question what being normal means and it’s a story that will stay with me for a very long time. If it can change the minds of young and older readers, then transgender kids would stand a chance of living a life with openness.  There needs to be more understanding and debate on why large sections of society continue to discriminate against people different from themselves. Change is happening, but for many it is not happening soon enough.  LGBT young people do not deserve to live a life invisible to those around them and The Art of Normal gives them a voice.

 

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